Recently, a number of countries have apologised publicly for actions committed in the past . I have always found this odd, as there is no suggestion that the government of the contemporary country was about to repeat the evil of earlier generations, although there is always a risk.
These acts made me think about whether I need to offer an apology for events in the past. Of course, I cannot do that on behalf of my country and, like all of us, there are a number of actions for which I should have apologised at, or near, the time. Not just on my own behalf, but also for others. One of these comes to mind over and over again.
Richard Burton (not his real name) came to the Boys' Grammar School I attended during our second year. The school had an excellent academic record and behaviour, on the whole, was good. It was always presented as being a very desirable place to gain an education and this inevitably resulted in complacency. As always happens, there were hierarchies, and some boys were favoured both by masters and by their fellow students, but there was little nastiness. Richard was an outsider and had to find a way into the groups that had already formed and that is never easy. Perhaps he was ill-equipped to do so, for in a short period of time he was the victim of physical attacks and these escalated into what can only be described as violent assaults. If the masters knew about it, they did nothing to stop it, and those of us who spectated were swept up by the thrill of Richard getting another beating and, deep down, probably feeling grateful that it wasn't one of us that was being attacked. It lasted for years, on and off, and I don't know how he coped.
We didn't know much about Richard’s background, but we did know that he was an outsider and that it was possible that he had moved to our town as a result of some adverse family circumstance. We didn't know, or care, about the reasons for the move, but the awful treatment meted out to him at school must have been misery enough, without any other problems that he had. I wonder what happened to Richard, and whether he was able to overcome the inevitable pain of it all? I still feel guilty for being an onlooker, carrying out my own little bit of taunting, and doing nothing to stop others. I knew the incessant bullying was very wrong and that’s what promotes my continuing sense of guilt.
It all happened a long time ago (in the 1960s) and I’m sure that bullying is no longer a problem, as the complacency that resulted in such awful attacks must be a thing of the past. Perhaps the school, so proud of celebrating the achievements of its students, should join me in making a belated apology to Richard? But it's too late, isn't it – and, just as in apologies from national governments, what’s the point?
P.S. The picture at the beginning of this post is of me, by the way, not Richard. It was taken from one of those school photographs that mean such a lot to some people. Fortunately, I was not bullied by my fellow students, only by some members of staff.